The Phillies knew the risks when they signed the Arrieta, then 32 years old, for $25 million per year in March of 2018. While he gave them a respectable 3.96 ERA in his first season in Philadelphia, things started to go wrong in the second year of his deal. His ERA rose for the fifth straight season, coming in at 4.64. His poor 18.5% strikeout rate and decent 8.6% walk rate each represented only modest steps back from the previous season’s marks, so much of the blame can be placed on his career-worst 19.4% HR/FB rate. The blame can also be placed on the bone spur in the veteran’s rate elbow. He pitched through the injury for much of the season before being shut down for season-ending surgery in mid-August. It’s possible the surgery reverses his decline, but it may do nothing more than add injury risk to a player with plenty of age and performance risk already.
The Phillies signed Arrieta to a three-year deal last offseason after they deemed his price to have dropped sufficiently, though his mediocre performance suggests they may have still overpaid. That’s not to say he was bad — he managed a 3.96 ERA, good for a 99 ERA-, technically better than average — but he’s very much a mid-rotation starter at this point in his career. He experienced a precipitous drop in strikeout rate, which sunk four points to 19.1%. He raised his groundball rate by 5.5 points to 51.6%, and he recorded a solid 7.9% walk rate despite control which at times seemed questionable. There’s little reason to believe at his age that his ERA will reverse its four-year trend of rising every season. If the pattern continues, Arrieta will have an ERA north of 4.00 and a below-average strikeout rate, leaving him with a reputation which far outweighs his actual value.
In many ways, Arrieta’s first half in 2017 looked like another step in the direction of his second half from 2016, as his ERA soared to 4.35 over his first 101.1 innings for the Cubs last season. He was still racking up plenty of strikeouts, but Arrieta’s mistakes were yielding a lot of hard contact, and his walk rate remained above 3.0 BB/9. Despite a rebound in the second half, there are some trends to be concerned about. Arrieta’s groundball rate dropped to 45.1 percent last season, and that shift aligned with a home-run rate that spiked from 0.73 to 1.23 HR/9. Moreover he allowed a .248/.317/.446 line to opposing hitters on the road compared to a .206/.281/.344 line at Wrigley Field. A hamstring strain limited Arrieta’s availability in September, and may have hampered him during the postseason as well. Arrieta landed a nice payday with Philadelphia as one of the premier arms available in a thin free-agent market, but tread carefully barring a draft-day discount.
Following a heavy 2015 workload (248.2 innings, including the postseason) there were concerns as to how Arrieta might respond atop the Cubs’ rotation last season. After opening 2016 with a bang — including his second career no-hitter in April — Arrieta showed signs of regression during the second half, as his strikeout rate tumbled (from 26.1% to 20.9%) while his first-half control woes persisted (9.6% BB% in 2016 after he posted a 5.5% mark in 2015). At a glance, the walks seem like the biggest issue, but Arrieta’s home-run rate nearly doubled from 2015, and it’s fair to wonder if he’s already peaked approaching his age-31 campaign. Even if 2016 is the new baseline, he is still an upper-tier starting pitcher. However, consecutive seasons with heavy workloads, and a reduced reliance on his cutter, may foretell more carefully monitored workloads, especially since he’s only eclipsed 200 innings in the regular once as a big league starter.
Before giving up on a young pitcher, remember the story of Jake Arrieta. A good pitching prospect coming up through the Orioles system, Arrieta had a 5.46 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, and 1.74 K/BB in 358 innings with Baltimore. The O’s dumped him on the Cubs for Scott Feldman in the summer of 2013, and the rest is history. In 67 starts with the Cubs, Arrieta has a 2.26 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and 3.89 K/BB. As good as he was in 2014, Arrieta took it to another level in 2015, especially during a historic second-half run. In his last nine starts, he went 8-0 with an 0.27 ERA, 0.55 WHIP, and 73:7 K:BB. Then he threw a shutout against Pittsburgh in the Wild Card game. He fell down to earth a bit in his last few starts of the postseason, but Arrieta, who will be 30 by Opening Day, is one of the best pitchers in the National League right now, arguably only behind Clayton Kershaw.
Who saw this coming? When the Cubs picked up Arrieta from the Orioles after a miserable four-season run in Baltimore, the right-hander was merely decent in a nine-start stint with his new team. However, in 25 starts with the Cubs in 2014, Arrieta was practically a Cy Young candidate (and one that easily cost less than other candidates like Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright in fantasy auctions). The extreme groundballer showed elite skills across the board, finishing with a 2.33 FIP and 4.07 K/BB ratio. Rather than a pitcher the Cubs hoped would pitch well enough that they could flip for a prospect, Arrieta became the de facto ace of the staff. With the addition of Jon Lester in free agency, Arrieta will likely slot in as the Cubs’ No. 2 starter to begin 2015.
After five forgettable starts for the Orioles last year, Arrieta was acquired by the Cubs in July and found the Friendly Confines much more friendly. That said, his 3.66 ERA and 1.123 WHIP in 14 starts with the Cubs come with a warning: his 37:24 K:BB ratio and seven home runs allowed in 51.2 innings don’t support those numbers. On the other hand, his 109:35 K:BB ratio in 114.2 innings in 2012 indicates he has some potential. He’s expected to be a part of the Cubs rotation in 2014, but Arrieta doesn’t look like anything more than a $1 pitcher in most standard leagues.
After being named the Opening Day starter in 2012, Arrieta held his own in April before the wheels came off in May and June. Arrieta was banished to the minors before returning down the stretch as a reliever, a move duplicated with Tommy Hunter and Brian Matusz. However, Arrieta did not have as much success out of the bullpen as the other two and the Orioles will almost certainly force him to compete for a job in spring training, be it as a starter or a reliever. An element of bad luck may have been in play in 2012, as Arrieta improved his K/BB rate to 3.1 in 2012 from 1.6 in 2011, and his 8.6 K/9 is easily the best of his career. We know Arrieta is not an ace, but there is bounceback potential in 2013 and the Orioles should return him to a starting role.
Arrieta was one of many pitchers in the Orioles organization to take a step back in 2011. He couldn’t solve his control issues, walking more than 4.00 BB/9IP for the second straight season. Last season also saw home-run issues rear their ugly head, as Arrieta gave up 1.58 HR/9IP. Now 26, there is still time for Arrieta, but both he and the organization will need to see some improvement for the sake of their long-term futures. Keep an eye on his workload during spring training as his season ended in August following surgery to remove a bone spur from his pitching elbow.
After dominating Triple-A over 11 starts, the Orioles decided to call up Arrieta to see if he was ready for the big leagues. Unfortunately, he wasn’t and things derailed over 18 MLB starts as Arrieta had a 52:48 K:BB ratio in 100.1 innings. Not only did he walk plenty of hitters, his successful strikeout rate did not immediately translate from the minors. Look for Arrieta to be the Orioles’ fourth or fifth starter to open the season, and keep in mind that some scouts are on the record saying that he could be better than teammates Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman in the long run.
Arrieta is probably the best pitcher in Baltimore’s system that has not made his MLB debut. The good news is that he is almost ready, but the bad news is he should not be confused with Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz. Arrieta seemed to be challenged in Triple-A, but he should have the stuff to be a middle or back of the rotation guy. Arrieta will compete for a rotation spot in spring, but it is more likely he will get the call around June.
Arrieta is the third best pitching prospect in the system, but that isn’t such a bad thing with Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz being the two ranked higher. Arrieta should start the season in Double-A and be in line for a rotation spot in 2010.
Arrieta, along with Matt Wieters, offers Orioles fans some hope in that he represents a change in philosophy in their front office. Prior to Andy MacPhail coming aboard, the team had refrained from spending over-slot money to land the best talent in the draft. That changed in 2007, with the selection of Wieters in the first round and Arrieta in the fifth round. Arrieta is a little risky, having lost four mph on his fastball during his final college season, but he seemed to allay those fears this fall at the Arizona Fall League, throwing 16 scoreless innings with a 16:7 K:BB. He could rise rapidly through the lower minors with a good 2008 debut.